Gros Morne - The Tablelands
Gros Morne National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It took Mother Nature four hundred and eighty five million years to mold Gros Morne National Park into the geological and visual wonder we know today. It is an area of astounding natural beauty, with a variety of scenery, wildlife, and outdoor activities. Visitors of the park can hike through wild uninhabited mountains and camp by the sea. Boat tours bring visitors under the towering cliffs of a freshwater fjord carved out by glaciers. Waterfalls, marine inlets, sea stacks, sandy beaches, barren lowlands, encompassing forests and colourful quaint fishing villages complete the phenomenal natural and cultural surroundings of Gros Morne National Park of Canada.
This area is also world-renowned for its complex geology. The Tablelands, a barren reddish brown plateau that towers seven hundred metres above the Atlantic Ocean, stands alone as an alien landscape amongst the lush and hilly forests that encompasses it. Found between the towns of Trout River and Woody Point in south west of Gros Morne National Park, it was here that geologists proved the theory of plate tectonics.
Geologists once believed that the Tablelands were the remnants of molten rock that had oozed up from deep inside the earth. However, at nearby Lobster Cove, a discovery was made by geologist Robert Stevens that proved they were wrong. He found pieces of rock containing chromite that was over four hundred and eighty-five million years old, which was much older than other rocks found in the area. These tiny pieces had eroded from the Tablelands.
Stevens discovery lead to the fact that the Tablelands, are actually the remains of an ancient ocean floor that existed five hundred million years ago. This ocean, called Iapetus, once lay along the eastern coast of North America from Newfoundland to Florida. Tectonic forces pushed remnants of this ocean upwards so that they were preserved within the super continent, Pangea. It is a truly awe-inspiring sight to behold, as you make your way over these huge slabs, which were once part of the ancient Iapetus Ocean floor.
The Tablelands, are predominantly made of ultramafic rock (peridotite), that lacks the usual nutrients required to sustain most plant life, hence the barren landscape. Because of this, there’s virtually no wildlife, which is an odd concept considering the entire park has thousands of moose. The rock is very low in calcium, very high in magnesium, and has toxic amounts of heavy metals. Peridotite is also high in iron, which accounts for its reddish-brown colour. Underneath this weathered zone, the rock is really a dark green colour.
There are many different ways to explore this unique geological landscape. The Tableland Trail, is an easy four kilometre trail that follows and old roadbed as it skirts the base of the mountain. During the summer months, Parks Canada offers many different interpretive guided tours down the trail. You can explore the trail at your own leisure, by getting an Explora Navigation Device from the Discovery Centre or downloading the Smart Phone App.
We chose to make our own path to the top of the Tablelands. As we clambered over large and small slabs of peridotite, it became apparent that the summit was much further than we had originally believed. The jagged surface was quite unstable, with rocks shifting and tumbling down as we climbed upwards. The wind came in gusts, as we escalated it became quite strong and it toppled me over quite a few times. Even thought the climb was strenuous, it offered so many stunning and panoramic views of Gros Morne National Park. Reaching the summit was very rewarding and extremely exhausting all rolled into one. While sitting at the top, taking a breather and admiring the view, I came to the painstaking realization that I still had to attempt to climb all the way down. The Tablelands is definitely a must see in Gros Morne National Park. Climbing among these alien reddish-brown weathered rocks, knowing that they used to be part of an ancient ocean floor is quite surreal, and really an experience like no other. The stark contrast between the barren landscape and the lush green forests is absolutely alluring. Even if you are not a geology aficionado, chances are you with find this place extremely fascinating.
HIKE IT WITH A GUIDE:
- Walk Upon the Earth's Mantle Guided Walk: Tablelands Trail (2h)10:00 am daily July - September
- Tablelands Intro Introductory Walk: Tablelands Trail (1h) Monday, Wednesday, Friday 2:00pm
- Reach for the top…of the Tablelands! Special Program: Tablelands Off-Trail Hike (3h) Reservations required ($44.00) Tuesday/Saturday 2:00 pm. Information and reservations: 709-453-2127.
HIKE IT ON YOUR OWN:
- Use an Explora Navigation Device: A new device offered by Parks Canada to allow visitors to navigate the Tablelands Trail (four kilometres in total) with the aid of an audio & video guide. Like having a tiny park naturalist in your hand to explore all the wonders of the Tablelands. You can pick up the device at the nearby Discovery Centre or download the free Smart Phone App: Tablelands Trail, to get all of the information you need but at your own time and pace. The device’s GPS tracks where you are on the trail, and when you reach a point of interest, a little bell starts ringing to alert you. Pause, and have a listen.
- Map of the Tablelands: $3 map or $5 waterproof map. Available at the Discovery Centre and the Visitor Centre. Pick up a map and plan your off trail route to some of the most picturesque landscapes in Gros Morne National Park. Plan a full day hike to the top of the Tablelands or a half-day adventure. Flip the map around and learn about the unique geology and flora on the Tablelands. Makes a great souvenir!
- Take in the views: Pull back the lens to see the beauty of the Tablelands in striking contrast to the surrounding green hills and blue saltwater. The Lookout Trail and the communities of Norris Point and Woody Point offer beautiful and different vistas of the Tablelands.
- Drive the scenic route 431: The road between Woody Point and Trout River is truly one of the most spectacular you'll see. What strikes you most is the contrast of colour between the mountains that tower above you. One side is lush green, and just across the road is a brilliant, reddish-brown colour.
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